RYAN VREDE writes Heyneke Meyer’s picks for assistants will form a cohesive unit and aid in reducing the stress that will accompany preparing a team in a week for the England series.
On Sunday Meyer announced Rassie Erasmus as his man for the high-performance general manager role, and Johann van Graan (forwards), Ricardo Loubscher (backs) and John McFarland (defence) as his assistants. Basil Carzis takes over as conditioning coach.
Meyer’s predecessor Peter de Villiers compiled a coaching team with differing playing philosophies and that ultimately was a significant contributor to their demise. Backs coach Dick Muir was little more than a well paid spectator by the end of his tenure as senior Springboks player convinced De Villiers that Muir’s fanciful expansive approach was ineffective in Test rugby. Forwards coach Gary Gold was largely a pragmatic man but he commanded little respect from the senior forwards, particularly those from the Bulls.
And while this is not an endorsment of the new crew’s aptitude for Test rugby – that will be tested in the coming years – there will be none of the cohesion issues that plagued the previous trio given that they know and share Meyer’s playing philosophy.
Erasmus’s relationship with Meyer grew during the former’s time as director of rugby at the Stormers. He was in constant contact with Meyer, picking his brain about technical, psychological and recruiting aspects of coaching. It is no coincidence that many of the Stormers’ current structures closely resemble the Bulls’. Meyer has come to respect Erasmus’s rugby intelligence and his work ethic and while his role is broad, Erasmus will be consulted on tactics. But Erasmus is far from a yes-man and this will benefit the Springboks as he will challenge Meyer to explore different dimensions of his coaching should any become stale or ineffective.
Van Graan was developed under Meyer at the Bulls and is highly-rated by him. An astute analyst and progressive thinker who shares Meyer’s unrelenting work ethic, he is an exciting appointment.
McFarland is a trusted lieutenant who Meyer recruited to the Bulls in the early part of his tenure. He attempted, unsuccessfully, to take him with him to Leicester when he was appointed there in 2008 and has insisted on his appointment now. In their prime McFarland shaped the Bulls into a formidable defensive unit and his work was central to their Super Rugby success in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Loubscher was not Meyer’s preferred appointment to oversee the back division. Allister Coetzee turned down his offer to continue in his role as head coach of the Stormers and Meyer’s other options were tied up in contracts. However, Meyer purposefully upskilled Loubscher at the Bulls and his education under Bulls attack coach Todd Louden in 2007 was an important part of his development. Loubscher’s ability to inject innovation, unpredictability and penetration to Springboks’ backs will be under intense scrutiny.
That the assistants have only been appointed just over a month and a half before their first Test undoubtedly undermines the team’s cause. However, their familiarity with and buy-in for Meyer’s method is a positive. How and whether they are able to mould the team into one with the level of synergy and tactical understanding to beat England will be of much interest.